Apparently, Daniel Craig quite likes videogames. So far, however, videogames don't seem to like him very much in return. Part of the problem, aside from the fact tthe last Bond game was a quiet stinker, is that handsome face.
On a cinema screen, those hard blue eyes glint with a cold intensity. Seen through the lens of a game engine, though, they don't do their job quite so well. CGI Craig often looks grumpy or bemused, the slightly thuggish quality of his bone structure offset by a dreamy, glassy look. It's the kind of expression you might assume when trying to recall an obscure 1980s crisp brand.
By those standards, Blood Stone is definitely getting there. Bizarre Creation's Craig looks a bit like Craig, a bit like Christian Bale, and a bit - this was a surprise - like my old friend Dwayne, who used to wear a suit and tie every day even though he was a grocery clerk at Safeways, and who suddenly moved to Seattle in the early nineties because he heard that something big was going to go down there.
It's more important than usual that Bizarre gets Bond looking right because you're going to be seeing a lot of him in Blood Stone. The developer of PGR, Blur, and The Club is taking 007 third-person, opting for a game that splits the action between cover-based shooting, driving sections and bits where you zip about on speedboats. (Is it still called driving when you're on a boat? I wish my grandfather were still with us: he would have known.)
All three elements are looking entirely adequate, if the glimpse of Blood Stone revealed at a recent Activision press event is anything to go by. While the game's main narrative sees Bond and his new lady Joss Stone tracking down a missing scientist against a backdrop that involves the diamond trade and suicide bombers, the pre-credit sequence, taking a nod from the films, is entirely self-contained: an explosive ramble through Athens that allows the developers to present a perfectly formed vertical slice.
On the trail of a sinister man with a sweater daringly knotted around his neck, Bond skydives out of a passing airplane, shoots his way into a fancy yacht, gets involved in a little motorboat chase, switches to an Aston Martin, and finally rams his nemesis off the road and right into a theme tune that, I'm sorry to report, was co-written by Joss Stone and Dave Stewart - clearly one of the most villainous double-acts since Thomas Midgley created both leaded petrol and CFCs.
Tackling these elements in the reverse order, Blood Stone's driving looks suitably solid, given the fact that Bizarre Creations is, you know, quite good at this kind of thing. Bond pursues his rival through miles of stylishly rendered terrain, threading through oncoming traffic stacked up across breezy bridges, zipping down twisting mountain lanes, and even leaving the tarmac to take the chase into the countryside for a few hectic moments.
Enemies fire back at Bond's speeding motor, day-trippers are shunted aside at bottlenecks, lens flare winks prettily on the horizon. While it's yet to be revealed how deep the car combat goes, the final smash-up as secret agent fatally tail-gates swarthy terrorist type looks like a lot of fun - particularly if you're not counting on the swarthy terrorist making it home for a clam bake in the evening.
It's pretty linear stuff, by the looks of it. The same goes for the boating section, which sees everybody's favourite Britisher reducing a no-doubt ancient harbour to smoking rubble to stop that terrorist who - don't forget - wanted to reduce the place to smoking rubble.
Switching to the water provides lots of combustible set-piece furniture, as nearby yachts crumple into flame, burning debris sails dangerously through the air, and little chicanes built from jetties and passing ocean liners crop up at unexpected occasions. Bond can definitely shoot from behind the wheel of his speedboat, and the final moments of the chase, which take the action nipping underneath the fins (legs? Grandad, I really miss you) of a massive catamaran suggest that Bizarre isn't bad at this spectacle business.
The bulk of the game, outside of the six driving levels, however, will see Bond on-foot, and probably lurking behind a crate. The pre-credit gun battle through a fancy yacht is over quickly, but there's enough time to suggest that the cover system is looking pretty slick.
Bond can peek out from his hiding spot and work around objects rather gracefully, while the enemy-riddled levels encourage a speedy approach to the maps, zinging from one safe haven to the next. On top of the cover, there's a crunchy one-button melee system with a nice contextual flavour, seeing Bond grab enemies as they round corners before shoeing them in the face, or appearing out of the shadows of a bulkhead to jab them fairly definitively in the back of the neck.
Taking a cue from Splinter Cell: Conviction, then. But Blood Stone's been in development for two years, and the team swears they came up with the idea independently - melee attacks allow you to earn up to three Focus Kills, which let you mark and then execute baddies without taking any hits yourself. It's a device that utterly transformed Sam Fisher's latest outing, taking a thoughtful stealth template and turning it into something that approached an extremely violent puzzle game.
Blood Stone, however, won't be letting the mechanic to get out of hand: this isn't a particularly stealthy experience, for starters, and the lack of ammo rationing means you won't really need to weigh things up and think too much before wading into the fray. Bond doesn't think, anyway, you communist: he pops out from behind a water bed, blasts foreigners right through the Martini olive and then romances Joss Stone. Not everyone's idea of a killer day job, sure, but he seems happy enough.
It's interesting that Bizarre is minimising the interesting strategic aspects to Focus Kills. Blood Stone is the latest game from the team that made The Club: a thoughtful, divisive, and very quirky shooter that ditched narrative and set-pieces in favour of mechanical stuff like a racing line and leaderboards. After that game - perhaps more poignantly, after the poor sales of that game - the developers are playing Bond straight.
This may well turn out to be a very good idea. Blood Stone's individual pieces - behind the wheel and on foot - look pretty respectable. But like a good Martini, it will depend on how the various ingredients taste when they come together.